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Book of Days – May 6 – End of the Battle of Chancellorsville
Saturday, May 6, 2017, 7:59 AM

On this date in 1863, the Confederacy completed their brilliant victory over the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Though greatly outnumbered, Generals Lee and Jackson managed to deliver a resounding blow to the Union army and to Union morale, sending the Union forces into a general retreat across the Rappahannock River. Having lost despite numerical superiority, Union General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command, leaving General George Meade in command when the two armies met again in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania less than two months later. By the end of the battle, Jackson was dead, having been the victim of friendly fire.

For today’s writing, the description of the wounded arriving from the battle of Chancellorsville by an army nurse, Walt Whitman:


The Wounded from Chancellorsville

May, ’63.—AS I write this, the wounded have begun to arrive from Hooker’s command from bloody Chancellorsville. I was down among the first arrivals. The men in charge told me the bad cases were yet to come. If that is so I pity them, for these are bad enough. You ought to see the scene of the wounded arriving at the landing here at the foot of Sixth street, at night. Two boat loads came about half-past seven last night. A little after eight it rain’d a long and violent shower. The pale, helpless soldiers had been debark’d, and lay around on the wharf and neighborhood anywhere. The rain was, probably, grateful to them; at any rate they were exposed to it. The few torches light up the spectacle. All around—on the wharf, on the ground, out on side places—the men are lying on blankets, old quilts, &c., with bloody rags bound round heads, arms, and legs. The attendants are few, and at night few outsiders also—only a few hard-work’d transportation men and drivers. (The wounded are getting to be common, and people grow callous.) The men, whatever their condition, lie there, and patiently wait till their turn comes to be taken up. Near by, the ambulances are now arriving in clusters, and one after another is call’d to back up and take its load. Extreme cases are sent off on stretchers. The men generally make little or no ado, whatever their sufferings. A few groans that cannot be suppress’d, and occasionally a scream of pain as they lift a man into the ambulance. To-day, as I write, hundreds more are expected, and to-morrow and the next day more, and so on for many days. Quite often they arrive at the rate of 1000 a day.

Civil War Hospital 300x193 Book of Days   May 6   End of the Battle of Chancellorsville

Army Hospital during the American Civil War

Scientism, Ridicule, and Applause Lines
Friday, May 5, 2017, 10:00 AM

laugh12 226x300 Scientism, Ridicule, and Applause Lines

Interestingly, scientism is a word that is only used by those who oppose it. Why is that?

Since most people have never heard the word scientism, it might sound a bit overboard to call it the religion of our age. How can a word that relatively few people know, and its followers don’t use be the religion of our age?  But now ask yourself what percentage of Americans would nod their heads in agreement with the following statement:

It’s no one’s business but your own if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist or whatever, but when it comes to things that effect everyone (education, politics, etc.) we should limit talk about what’s real to what all of us can agree is real.

That statement is creedal scientism (notice how it grants total authority to those who come closest to believing in nothing). And would anyone doubt that more Americans today (and nearly all Europeans) would comfortably nod their heads in agreement with that statement than could recite the Nicene Creed with sincerity?

Respond to the statement above with “prove it” and you’ll get a confused look (although it still might be worth trying). This is because it’s not a statement that opens itself to proof. It’s a resolution of the will, an emotional reaction, or an applause line for the Bill Maher show or The View. And it has nothing to do with reason or science.

And this is why followers of scientism never use the word scientism, let alone define it. The moment they name it they’re obliged to define their terms. And once they do that it withers away under any kind of reasoned debate. Why bother with any of that when all they really want is the applause?

And why do so many applaud? They applaud because the creed sounds reasonable without having to go to the trouble of reasoning anything through. And they applaud to signal that they’re with the smart guy and because applause is a nice way of ridiculing and shutting up those who aren’t.

Webster’s tells me that scientism is: “thought or expression regarded as characteristic of scientists.”  If someone can find scientism used this way in a published sentence, I’d like to see it.  French philosopher and poet Benjamin Fondane knew what he was talking about when he described it as “hatred for religious transcendence.”  Benjamin Fondane died at Auschwitz in 1944.


Book of Days – May 5 – Kublai Khan becomes ruler of the Mongol Empire
Friday, May 5, 2017, 9:54 AM

On this date in 1260, Kublai Khan became ruler of the Mongol Empire.

For today’s writing, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kublai Khan:

blank Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.


For THIS Has Esolen Left Providence College
Thursday, May 4, 2017, 9:19 AM

Touchstone Senior Editor Anthony Esolen has made it official and public in this article at Crisis–his leaving Providence College and what attracted him elsewhere, that is, to Thomas More College, in New Hampshire. His article really is upbeat; there are such lights still rising up, cultural renewal happens, hope springs eternal. May God prosper his teaching.

Book of Days – May 4 – Battle of Tewksbury
Thursday, May 4, 2017, 7:58 AM

On this date, in 1471, the battle of Tewksbury was fought during the War of the Roses, resulting in the death of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, the Lancaster heir apparent to the throne of his father, King Henry VI.

For today’s reading an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III, Act 5, Scene 5:

SCENE V. Another part of the field.

Flourish. Enter KING EDWARD IV, GLOUCESTER, CLARENCE, and soldiers; with QUEEN MARGARET, OXFORD, and SOMERSET, prisoners

* * *

So part we sadly in this troublous world,
To meet with joy in sweet Jerusalem.

Is proclamation made, that who finds Edward
Shall have a high reward, and he his life?

It is: and lo, where youthful Edward comes!
Enter soldiers, with PRINCE EDWARD

Bring forth the gallant, let us hear him speak.
What! can so young a thorn begin to prick?
Edward, what satisfaction canst thou make
For bearing arms, for stirring up my subjects,
And all the trouble thou hast turn’d me to?

Speak like a subject, proud ambitious York!
Suppose that I am now my father’s mouth;
Resign thy chair, and where I stand kneel thou,
Whilst I propose the selfsame words to thee,
Which traitor, thou wouldst have me answer to.

Ah, that thy father had been so resolved!

That you might still have worn the petticoat,
And ne’er have stol’n the breech from Lancaster.

Let AEsop fable in a winter’s night;
His currish riddles sort not with this place.

By heaven, brat, I’ll plague ye for that word.

Ay, thou wast born to be a plague to men.

For God’s sake, take away this captive scold.

Nay, take away this scolding crookback rather.

Peace, wilful boy, or I will charm your tongue.

Untutor’d lad, thou art too malapert.

I know my duty; you are all undutiful:
Lascivious Edward, and thou perjured George,
And thou mis-shapen Dick, I tell ye all
I am your better, traitors as ye are:
And thou usurp’st my father’s right and mine.

Take that, thou likeness of this railer here.

Stabs him

Sprawl’st thou? take that, to end thy agony.

Stabs him

And there’s for twitting me with perjury.

Stabs him

O, kill me too!

Marry, and shall.

Offers to kill her

Hold, Richard, hold; for we have done too much.

Why should she live, to fill the world with words?

What, doth she swoon? use means for her recovery.

Clarence, excuse me to the king my brother;
I’ll hence to London on a serious matter:
Ere ye come there, be sure to hear some news.

What? what?

The Tower, the Tower.


O Ned, sweet Ned! speak to thy mother, boy!
Canst thou not speak? O traitors! murderers!
They that stabb’d Caesar shed no blood at all,
Did not offend, nor were not worthy blame,
If this foul deed were by to equal it:
He was a man; this, in respect, a child:
And men ne’er spend their fury on a child.
What’s worse than murderer, that I may name it?
No, no, my heart will burst, and if I speak:
And I will speak, that so my heart may burst.
Butchers and villains! bloody cannibals!
How sweet a plant have you untimely cropp’d!
You have no children, butchers! if you had,
The thought of them would have stirr’d up remorse:
But if you ever chance to have a child,
Look in his youth to have him so cut off
As, deathmen, you have rid this sweet young prince!

Away with her; go, bear her hence perforce.

Picking Sides with Michael Allen Gillespie
Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 12:04 PM
choosing sides 300x232 Picking Sides with Michael Allen Gillespie

Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress LC-H234- A-8048.

Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity confounds an easy scoring of history.

I am reading Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity. It is one of those books where the more I read, the more embarrassed I am about what I thought I used to know.

I spend a lot of my free time trying to answer the question, “How did we get into this mess?” And by “this mess” I’m referring to culture and the trajectory of the West. I want to know who to blame for all this. I have formed mental lists of responsible parties, along with quick shorthands describing what they did, when they did it, and their contributions to the general screwup.

For many years, William of Ockham (1285-1347) and his philosophy of nominalism has been one of my prime suspects, thanks to the work of Richard Weaver. My shorthand for Ockham and Duns Scotus went like this: “They threw out Aristotle’s universals and said things are just what people call them and nothing more. Eventually, Ockham’s philosophical descendants tossed out the human soul because ‘soul’ was just another one of those universal forms.” This shorthand always served me well when I was in need of a quick answer. But no more, thanks to Gillespie.

The problem with my shorthand is that it makes William of Ockham and Duns Scotus sound like a couple of 20th-century college professors or Richard Rorty enthusiasts who traveled back in time to make a mess of things.

As Michael Allen Gillespie explains, Ockham was reacting to the Scholastics whom Ockham said had put philosophy above Scripture. Meanwhile, the Scholastics charged the Nominalists of making God the creator of evil.  I sympathize with both groups, and I’m not sure which heresy I would have gone to bat for at the time.

Regardless, it wasn’t until Francis Bacon came along in the 1500s that Nominalism started sounding anything remotely like my modern shorthand, but even Bacon wouldn’t know what to make of the world that now professes not to know the difference between a man and a woman.

I can’t help but read history identifying the good guys and the bad guys, and picking who is on my team. But it’s a vulgar mistake to mix men who worked from a common sense tradition in with moderns on both the left and the right who reject tradition outright. I like how Georges Sorel described his mission: to demolish “this superstructure of conventional lies and to destroy the prestige still accorded to the ‘metaphysics’ of the men who vulgarize the vulgarization of the eighteenth century.”

At this point in the game, we’re vulgarizing the vulgarization of the vulgarization of the eighteenth century.

(I still don’t want Ockham on my team though.)

Book of Days – May 2 – Death of Lieutenant Alexis Helmer
Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 5:59 AM

On May 2, 1915, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, a Canadian artillery officer, was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres, hit by an 8-inch German shell, which caused unspeakable damage.  What remains could be found were gathered into sandbags and buried in a blanket that evening. The being no chaplain, Lt. Helmer’s friend, Major John McCrae, conducted the services, reciting from memory the “Order of Burial of the Dead” from the Book of Common Prayer. The exact location of Lt. Helmer’s grave is now unknown.

It is believed that later that evening, Maj. McCrae began writing his now famous poem, In Flanders Fields, which is today’s writing.  McCrae, a doctor, died of pneumonia before the end of the Great War, on January 28, 1918.  His collection of poems, including In Flanders Fields, was first published later that year.  It contained a handwritten facsimile of the poem, autographed by McCrae, which replaces “blow” in the first line with “grow”.  The following is the standard version as printed in the collection:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Book of Days – May 1 – The Feast of St. Philip and St. James
Monday, May 1, 2017, 8:05 AM

May 1 is the traditional date on the Western Church Calendar for the celebration of the feast of St. Philip and St. James (which was moved to May 3 on the Catholic Calendar many years ago).  For today’s writing, a poem from John Keble’s The Christian Year:


S. Phlip and S. James’s Day.

Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich in that he is made low. — St. James i. 9, 10.

Dear is the morning gale of spring,
***And dear th’ autumnal eve;
But few delights can summer bring
***A Poet’s crown to weave.

Her bowers are mute, her fountains dry,
***And ever Fancy’s wing
Speed’s from beneath her cloudless sky
***To autumn or to spring.

Sweet is the infant’s waking smile,
***And sweet the old man’s rest —
But middle age by no fond wile,
***No soothing calm is blest.

Still in the world’s hot restless gleam
***She plies her weary task,
While vainly for some pleasant dream
***Her wandering glances ask. —

O shame upon thee, listless heart,
***So sad a sigh to heave,
As if thy Saviour had no part
***In thoughts, that make thee grieve.

As if along His lonesome way
***He had not borne for thee
Sad languors through the summer day,
***Storms on the wintry sea.

Youth’s lightning flash of joy secure
***Pass’d seldom o’er His spright, —
A well of serious thought and pure.
***Too deep for earthly light.

No spring was His — no fairy gleam —
***For He by trial knew
How cold and bare what mortals dream,
***To worlds where all is true.


Then grudge not thou the anguish keen
***Which makes thee like thy Lord,
And learn to quit with eye serene
***Thy youth’s ideal hoard.

Thy treasur’d hopes and raptures high —
***Unmurmuring let them go,
Nor grieve the bliss should quickly fly
***Which Christ disdain’d to know.

Thou shalt have joy in sadness soon;
***The pure, calm hope be thine,
Which brightens, like the eastern moon,
***As day’s wild lights decline.

Thus souls, by nature pitch’d too high,
***By sufferings plung’d too low,
Meet in the Church’s middle sky,
***Half way ’twixt joy and woe,

To practise there the soothing lay
***That sorrow best relieves;
Thankful for all God takes away,
***Humbled by all He gives.

Book of Days – April 30 – First Installment of A Tale of Two Cities
Sunday, April 30, 2017, 6:00 AM

On this date in 1859, the first installment of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities was published in All the Year Round. Subsequent installments would be published until completed on November 26, 1859. For today’s writing, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First–Recalled to Life, Chapter I. The Period.

A Tale of Two Cities

Book the First—Recalled to Life

I. The Period

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of “the Captain,” gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, “in consequence of the failure of his ammunition:” after which the mail was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles’s, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boy of sixpence.


All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along the roads that lay before them.

Book of Days – April 29 – Joan of Arc arrives at Orléans
Saturday, April 29, 2017, 4:47 AM

On this date in 1429, Joan of Arc arrived at Orléans, relieving the English siege, which ended less than two weeks later, on May 8.  It represented the first French victory with Joan of Arc present with its army and its first major victory in the Hundred Years War since its loss at Agincourt in 1415.

Today’s writing is an excerpt from Robert Southey’s epic Joan of Arc, the section entitled Rheims.

Joan of Arc entering Orleans 227x300 Book of Days   April 29   Joan of Arc arrives at OrléansJoan of Arc Entering Orléans
by Jean-Jacques Scherrer (1887)

blankblankbla THE MORN was fair
When Rheims re-echoed to the busy hum
Of multitudes, for high solemnity
Assembled. To the holy fabric moves
The long procession, through the streets bestrewn
With flowers and laurel boughs. The courtier throng
Were there, and they in Orleans, who endured
The siege right bravely; Gaucour, and La Hire,
The gallant Xaintrailles, Boussac, and Chabannes,
Alenson, and the bravest of the brave,
The Bastard Orleans, now in hope elate,
Soon to release from hard captivity
His dear-beloved brother; gallant men,
And worthy of eternal memory,
For they, in the most perilous times of France,
Despaired not of their country. By the king
The delegated Damsel passed along,
Clad in her battered arms. She bore on high
Her hallowed banner to the sacred pile,
And fixed it on the altar, whilst her hand
Poured on the monarch’s head the mystic oil,
Wafted of yore by milk-white dove from heaven
(So legends say) to Clovis when he stood
At Rheims for baptism; dubious since that day,
When Tolbiac plain reeked with his warrior’s blood,
And fierce upon their flight the Almanni prest,
And reared the shout of triumph; in that hour
Clovis invoked aloud the Christian God
And conquered: waked to wonder thus, the chief
Became love’s convert, and Clotilda led
Her husband to the font.
blankblankbla The missioned Maid
Then placed on Charles’s brow the crown of France,
And back retiring, gazed upon the king
One moment, quickly scanning all the past,
Till in a tumult of wild wonderment
She wept aloud. The assembled multitude
In awful stillness witnessed: then at once,
As with a tempest-rushing noise of winds,
Lifted their mingled clamors. Now the Maid
Stood as prepared to speak, and waved her hand,
And instant silence followed.
blankblankbla “King of France!”
She cried, “at Chinon, when my gifted eye
Knew thee disguised, what inwardly the spirit
Prompted, I promised, with the sword of God,
To drive from Orleans far the English wolves,
And crown thee in the rescued walls of Rheims.
All is accomplished. I have here this day
Fulfilled my mission, and anointed thee
King over this great nation.”

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